The state of Washington's constitution guarantees that "every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right." But according to the city of Redmond, some subjects are so objectionable that speaking about them in public is beyond the pale. Bagels, for instance.
In June the city ordered Dennis Ballen, owner of Blazing Bagels, to "cease and desist immediately" from advertising his wares on a sign worn by an employee standing at the corner of Northeast 70th Street and Redmond Way Northeast. The offending message, which read "Fresh Bagels—Now Open," was Ballen's way of attracting customers who otherwise might not notice his shop on a relatively quiet street off of Redmond Way. Unfortunately, the sandwich board also drew the attention of Redmond's regulators, who have decreed that the content of portable signs must be limited to three topics: real estate, politics, and celebrations.
With help from the D.C.-based Institute for Justice, which recently opened a chapter in Washington state, Ballen has challenged the sign ban in King County Superior Court. The lawsuit argues that Redmond's rules violate the state and federal constitutions by restricting speech based on content and by failing to meet the requirements for regulation of commercial messages.
The Institute for Justice said it "hopes to break down the artificial distinction between commercial speech and other forms of speech that generally get greater protection." William Maurer, executive director of the organization's Washington chapter, noted that "commercial speech is often much more important to Americans in their everyday lives than political speech."
A good bagel and a good politician may be equally hard to find. But which would you rather have for brunch?